If you happen to be in Southwest Idaho during a long Winter cold spell, shake off those Winter blues and head over to Thousand Springs! For a brochure on the various places you can visit, just click here. There are two main reasons why Winter is my favorite time to visit the springs. First, the water that gushes out of the Earth comes out at a constant temperature year-round. On cold Winter days, the water vaporizes and forms ice crystals, coating everything around it in ice. Second, there is a healthy population of bald eagles that winter in the area. If you’re lucky, you can even see them at pretty close range.
These first couple images are from Box Canyon Springs. It’s a short hike down to the bottom of the canyon (most of the hike is along the top rim). The best ice formations are down near a small waterfall. Bring your tripod and get some nice shots with flowing water. The shot on the right was taken right at the top of the waterfall. Every time I’ve come here, there’s a friendly farm dog that tags along. He even waited for me for a couple hours in the bottom of the canyon while I was photographing!
When you’re hiking out to Box Canyon, you’ll notice lots of bald eagles in the area. Most of the eagles around here are skiddish and difficult to approach. However, if you start driving around the farms in the area, you’ll notice many eagles perched in the trees. These are much easier to get close to and photograph. If you ask some of the people in the area, they can tell you where they roost. I went to the roosting spot and literally saw almost 100 eagles flying around at dusk. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get good images with my 400mm f/5.6 lens, but it certainly was an impressive sight.
While you’re driving around looking for eagles, keep your eyes peeled for other birds. You’ll definitely see ducks in the corn fields. They are fun to scare since they fly off en masse (you might even get some good pictures). You’ll see plenty of pheasants like the one on the right. Using your car as a blind works quite well. I was also lucky to see a barn owl perched atop a sprinkler head. I had wonderful warm evening light for the image on the left. I just wish he had picked a more “natural” spot to perch on.
The next spot I like in the Winter is Ritter Island. There is a large waterfall that you can walk to down by the Snake River. On really cold days the entire falls will be frozen over, creating awesome ice formations. If you decide to climb up for a closer view, be very careful as it is quite easy to slip. Crampons would be a good idea here. The image on the left is a telephoto shot towards the top of the falls as ice coated the plants hanging off the edge. Also, don’t forget to look for macro opportunities. I took the shot on the right near the bottom of the falls and really liked the simple, clean background.
Once you’ve explored the bottom of the falls, head up to the top. I was amazed at the quantity of ice up here. The plants were literally coated with ice so thick you could walk right over the top of them without breaking through. There really isn’t any trails to follow up here, you have to pick your own path and possible climb a couple fences. Be very careful not to get too close to the edge of the falls as things can be unpredictable.
The image on the left was taken with my 15mm fisheye lens in the main part of the stream. I used f/22 to enhance the diffraction effect of the sun’s rays. Here you can clearly see just how massive the ice formations are. The image on the right I took further away from the main part of the stream where the ice wasn’t as heavy. I took this shot laying on my back with the plants arcing over from the weight of the ice.
In conclusion, the Thousand Springs is a great place to visit any time of the year, but in the Winter, you’ll definitely get some unique shots. Have fun and be safe!